ThIMG_4430ank goodness Spring Break came. I don’t know how our students could have managed making it through the spring at the University of Southern California without a break in the 80 and 90 degree weather. Some of them jetted off to New York, where it continues to snow with the relentless fury of the spring semester’s SDA productions. They just keep going up and coming down, one after the other. So it’s great that we had a week to breathe and catch up.

Right after the break, we will be heading into tech for two shows, “The Way of the World,” by William Congreve, and “Grease” by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.  Ever since the title appeared on the list of spring shows, we have been fixated on the car. Every boffo production of “Grease” needs an equally impressive car on stage. Our props manager, Hannah, reached out to the SPAM group, the Society of Properties Artisan Managers, and located several options for the car. The best option was the car from the Cedar Street Theatre, in Lancaster, CA. Their rental cost was very reasonable. They offered to sell us the car, but limited storage at SDA didn’t make it an appealing prospect. So we agreed on a rental fee, and then needed to get the car from Lancaster to LA.

For a Production Manager, and probably almost anyone in the theatre, our work consists of solving problems as they arise. What I love about the work is that each new problem creates a steep learning curve which I try to approach as rationally and economically as I can, and always results in a solution and a new notch in my experience either of how to do something, or how not to do something. This may have been the latter.

Ship a car. Hmmm…. After locating the Auto Transport 411 website, I typed in the details of the car. 1954 Chevy Bel Air, non-operating. Transporting from the tow yard in Lancaster to the Bing pad on the USC campus. Enter. What began next was a constant stream of emails and phone calls from brokers all over the country trying to win this job.  Have you seen the show “Shipping Wars,”? If you haven’t, you should check it out. It is a scream. I imagined that all over the state, truckers were sitting in their cabs with their laptops open, seeing my “1954 Chevy Bel Air from Lancaster to LA” and jeering and pointing as the bids came in, their colleagues low-balling each other in a cutthroat battle for my business.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The above narrative assumes a knowledge I didn’t yet have. All I knew was the phone calls would never stop. The first time I picked up the phone, there was a young woman who began her spiel and didn’t really care if I heard it or followed along. She displayed increasing irritation with my slow grasp of the concept. I was struggling to understand this Auto Transport 411 wormhole that I had slipped into. I hung up with Miss Snarky. I was looking for a price somewhere in the neighborhood of $100. which was not going to happen, but when I got one for $125.00, close enough. I booked the truck.

Here’s what I learned first – shipping brokers are not great communicators.  I signed up for the delivery of the car, put in my card number, and then waited.  Two or three weeks I waited and heard nothing. The shipping date was 3/18/15, and on 3/17/15, when I hadn’t heard back from the shipper, I tried to search through my 26,800 emails in my inbox for the shipper. I see you. Stop that. Don’t judge me. There’s a lot of value in saving emails. And flagging them. I had apparently flagged all 20,000 emails from various transport experts. Finally I contacted the one I thought I had dealt with. Their message said “We will return your call within fifteen minutes.” Three or so hours passed, and I moved to hire another company. Their rate was almost twice what I wanted/intended to pay, but spring break was slipping away and I didn’t yet have my boffo car at the theatre. I went back to one of the earlier transporters that I had talked with at the beginning of the process. Seemed like a nice guy, and his daughter was waiting to hear back from USC about admissions. Scott saved me. Or so I thought.

Meanwhile the company I thought I had engaged called me back to say that they hadn’t talked with me before. He could apparently see everything on his computer and gave me the name of company I had booked for the gig. Furthermore, he explained to me how this whole system worked. He told me that the bidders were all brokers – they weren’t battling to cart my car; they were battling to profit from someone else’s carting my car. That it was going to be hard to find someone to accept the gig for $125.00, even though the broker had agreed to ship the car.

So I called the correct company. I explained that I hadn’t heard from them and I had gone ahead and hired another company. Through his thick Jersey accent he let me know with irritation, “I just dispatched your job.”  I let him know that because I hadn’t heard from him I had gone ahead with another shipper. He thanked me for letting him know.

So today was the day. I talked to Hugo from the towing company, and he picked up the car yesterday and was planning on delivering it to USC today by 10:00AM. When my phone rang this morning, he was circling the campus looking for the gate I had told him to enter through. He said, “I’m talking to Mike. He says he works with you.” I looked down Watt Way and saw a motorcycle idling next to a truck.


 I can see you. Just keep coming straight ahead!

Greased Lighting arrives on campus. Tow Driver, Hugo stands next to the cab of his truck.

Soon Hugo, with his motorcycle envoy came up Watt Way. He parked the truck on Downey while we waited for the bollards to be removed so he could drive forward. I got my first glimpse of the cherry red body of “Greased Lightning.”

Just a few more minutes, and we were behind the Bing Theatre. Hugo lowered the car onto the pad and we admired it. He showed me the battery in the trunk, and then I asked him if I could take a piIMG_4450cture of him in the car. Hugo is a very nice man and he obliged.

Scenic Designer Dreem Qin appreciating her hero prop, Greased Lightning.
Front end of the car.
This journey was a learning experience. As are all journeys, no?

Everyone greeted “GL” with affection. We had a photo shoot with two of the four designers, Austin, the Lighting Designer, and Dreem, the Scenic Designer. And if you want to see the car in action, come see “Grease” at the USC School of Dramatic Arts! USC School of Dramatic Arts – Spring Musical

3 thoughts

  1. I shall share this witty essay with Paul…..he’ll love it!!! I laughed so often, Els , wonderful humorous piece!!!!

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